Anger as bank blackballs UK firm in Sudan row

27 September 2012

Banking giant Barclays is under fire after closing the UK account of a British company for doing business in Sudan – even though the firm is trading legitimately.

The bank appears to be acting under pressure from US authorities to punish British businesses for trading in this once war-ravaged country.

The unnamed firm, which sells first aid and medical equipment to Sudan, has been given 60 days’ notice that Barclays will shut down the business’s British account.

In an email to the company the bank said: “Barclays has reviewed its business globally and we are no longer prepared to maintain accounts for businesses who have entered into commercial activity with Sudan. This stems from Barclays’ global policy and in no way reflects on you personally.”

UK regulations permit British companies to trade legally with Sudan except for specific prohibited areas such as arms.

However, Sudan is on a list of restricted countries compiled by the Office of Foreign Asset Control, a branch of the United States Treasury, and the bank appears to have based its policy on this.

The British Chambers of Commerce has angrily condemned the move. Paul Wrighting, the BCC’s National Trade Services Manager, is investigating whether the move may affect other British companies selling to Sudan which have Barclays accounts.

“We think it’s awful that a UK bank is bowing to pressure from the US,” said Mr Wrighting. “Our exporters are having a tough enough time without Barclays closing down accounts.

“There’s nothing to stop British companies doing business with Sudan, although there are restrictions. If you don’t send arms there’s no problem.”

A spokesman for Barclays told Chamber International that the bank had a policy of not conducting business with people or entities which were prohibited under European Union, United Nations, United Kingdom or United States regulations.

“There are a lot of areas we have to comply with,” he said. “We are going to take our responsibilities seriously. Sanctions with Sudan have been in force for some years.”

He added that although the bank took into account licences for humanitarian purposes the company involved was not involved in such activities. He denied there was an overall ban on holding the accounts of all UK companies trading with Sudan.